Shiite militias in Iraq detained, tortured and abused far more Sunni civilians during the American-backed capture of the town of Falluja in June than U.S. officials have publicly acknowledged, according to a Reuters special report.
More than 700 Sunni men and boys still are missing more than two months after the Islamic State stronghold fell, Reuters says. The abuses occurred despite U.S. efforts to restrict the militias’ role in the operation, including threatening to withdraw American air support, according to U.S. and Iraqi officials.
The battle against the Islamic State is the latest chapter in the conflict between Iraq’s Shiite majority and Sunni minority, which was unleashed by the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. The war ended decades of Sunni rule under Saddam Hussein and brought to power a series of governments dominated by Shiite Islamist parties supported by Iran.
Washington’s inability to restrain the sectarian violence is now a central concern for Obama administration officials as they move ahead with plans to help Iraqi forces retake the much larger city of Mosul, the Islamic State’s Iraqi capital, Reuters says.
Preliminary operations to clear areas outside Mosul have been under way for months. Sunni leaders in Iraq and Western diplomats fear the Shiite militias may commit worse excesses in Mosul, the country’s second-largest city, which was seized by the Islamic State in June 2014.